City panel approves 25th Street Station

The Walmart entrance is depicted in a new rendering presented to the city Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel on Thursday, Oct. 31. (Rendering courtesy of Massa Montalto / October 31, 2013)

The third time was the charm Thursday, as the Baltimore City Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel gave its blessing to the planned 25th Street Station shopping center with a Walmart in Remington.

UDARP had criticized aspects of the Walmart design in two previous hearings, but this time agreed that proposed landscaping and design changes would make the center and its Walmart super center store more aesthetically pleasing and better integrated into the community, as well as more pedestrian-friendly.

City Planning Department Director Thomas Stosur, a member of the UDARP panel, remarked on "how pleasing it is that you guys really took this (criticism) to heart."

"I think the concept has really gotten stronger since your landscape architects have joined the (development) team," panelist Gary Bowden said after a presentation by Dan Condatore of Massa Montalto Architects and landscape architect Jon Kraft, branch manager of Bowman Consulting.

"Well done," said panelist Diane Jones-Allen. "It's a vast improvement."

"I'm overjoyed," said Caroline Paff, project manager for the development team led by Rick Walker of WV Urban Developments, which has revised the design of the Walmart piece of the project several times in recent weeks, based on comments from the city panel and community associations in Remington, Charles Village, Old Goucher and Fawcett. "It has been very quick work. We rolled this out for the public Sept. 26. Here we are, a month and five days later. This team has listened carefully. They have worked diligently and expressed their passion in the plans."

Paff also complimented Walmart officials for be willing to amend the plans.

"The plan presented today is far better than the developer could have afforded on its own. Certainly, it's more expensive and it will be a higher maintenance (cost), Walmart did not blink."

"It is more expensive," said Walmart spokeswoman Nina Albert, who attended the UDARP meeting. She said she did not know how much more expensive the new plan would be than the one first presented in September.

The new plans call for a variety of trees, hedges and flowers around the entrances, as well as "site furnishings," including benches, special lighting and contemporary trash cans and bike racks. Plantings would range from willow oak, elm and sycamore trees to blackened Susans and potted plants.

"I think it must be the most landscaped Walmart in the world," Sandy Sparks, of Charles Village, told the UDARP pane; in generally complimentary testimony.

"I don't know that it's that, but I do think it really looks good," Albert said.

The panel's approval was a major hurdle cleared for Walmart and WV, but one more hurdle looms — a city Planning Commission meeting set for Nov. 21.

"The Planning Commission is a big next step," Albert said.

Not everyone is happy with the project as approved by the panel, with some residents reiterating concerns about tearing down a historic stone church to make way for a Walmart loading dock, among other issues. Panelists too had lingering concerns, and approved the project "with comments," saying ti could be more accessible for bicyclists and the Walmart entrance could be more dramatic in appearance, to create what one called "a sense of arrival."

But Richard Gilmore, a 57-year-old library assistant and lifelong Remington resident, made it clear he wants the Walmart.

"Please do not let the quest for perfection be the enemy of good," Gilmore told UDARP members. "The building and lot look far better than anything that currently exists in Remington."

In a twist on greeters who say, "Hello, welcome to Walmart," Gilmore told the panel, "Please accept the current plans, so I can say to our new neighbor, 'Hello, Walmart, welcome to Remington.'"